GSN’s programs address the most fundamental challenges to peacebuilding. Acts of division and violence begin with a thought, and these thoughts are influenced by the traumatic histories and trauma symptoms. Ability to reconcile hinges on shifts in perspective, trust, and at times behavior. GSN healing-centered approaches using a trauma-informed and responsive lens are not merely a psycho-social tool but as an instrument for reconciliation and peacebuilding. The impact of trauma is still merely viewed as a wellness issue and little attention is paid to the instability it creates and the obstacles it poses to peaceful resolution of conflict.
Trauma is not only a consequence of violence but also a source of instability and one that affects attitudes and behaviors in ways that pose a challenge to the changes needed in order for conflicting parties to reconcile. Thus, there are programmatic trauma healing efforts, restorative justice efforts and dialogue processes that are meant to support reconciliation. These efforts have or are assumed to have trauma healing elements. Thus, we will assess the ways these trauma healing efforts relate to reconciliation.
Because GSN works as practitioners and provides a service, there is an ease in conducting research because the process is not extractive. The population receives a healing initiative with lessons and materials and later we return to the areas to report our results. Prior to any intervention or study, we meet with government and civil society leaders to sensitize them to our program and to enlist support and guidance for hiring and recruitment of participants. We also share research instruments with community leaders and members for approval and guidance.
We work with both researchers and psychologists from Kenya, and in the last five years have built our capacity to conduct both qualitative and quantitative analysis, having raw data from across the region. We have strong ties to local actors and organizations in East Africa. GSN is a Kenyan organization, and our work is driven locally with local partners in Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia. We understand regional norms, culture and have been able to work in some of the most sensitive areas gaining trust of communities and leaders.
Our interventions and operations are trauma-informed. Our enumerators in Kenya are trained psychologists, who are able to care for study respondents in distress. Our research teams are trained in the rights of human subjects and we submit our evaluations for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Moreover, we develop local emergency response systems for program participants who may be triggered during interventions. Program facilitators and staff participate in weekly debriefing sessions for support of stress management. We also take great care guarding staff and participants’ physical security and have had to adapt our activities according to evolving security issues.